N.J. mom casts wide net to prevent suicide

     A Schenke family portrait from left to right:  Lisa, Pete, David, Tim and Andy.  (Image courtesy of Lisa Schenke)

    A Schenke family portrait from left to right: Lisa, Pete, David, Tim and Andy. (Image courtesy of Lisa Schenke)

    Each year, nearly 40,000 Americans kill themselves. This is Suicide Prevention Week — but one New Jersey mother works to prevent suicides every day of the year.

    Lisa Schenke’s son, Tim, was good at so many things. He was a great student, a star athlete.

    “Tim was so energetic, and such a smiley, active kid,” she recalled.

    Five years ago, when Tim was 18, he took his own life, after a struggle with depression. Schenke has worked to prevent suicide since then — focusing her efforts on young people.

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    She started her awareness campaign in the days after Tim’s death, reaching out to other parents in Point Pleasant, New Jersey, where her family lived at the time.

    “I wanted to share as much as possible,” she said. “I didn’t like the misconceptions happening, people saying, ‘Oh, it’s because both parents work,’ or ‘You live in a fairly affluent Shore community,'” she said.  “Things like that, they are so false, this could happen in any family.”

    A lot of families in her community wanted to look the other way when it came to depression, or drugs and alcohol abuse, Schenke said. Her son’s death was followed by a cluster of 10 more suicides among young people in her community.

    Kids should be encouraged to reach out when they are going through a difficult period, to talk about their problems, Schenke said. “And to be told, again and again, it’s just a hurdle, life will get better, the teenage years are hard, high school is hard, the future is bright,” she said.

    Schenke reaches out to parents, teachers, anyone who will listen. That approach is right in line with the 1-year-old national strategy for suicide prevention.

    It’s important to cast a wide net, says Richard McKeon of the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration.

    “Everyone has a role to play, so it includes guidance for schools and for faith communities, and for work places,” he said.

    The national suicide prevention hotline 1-800-273-TALK receives 80,000 calls every month. You can also go online to chat with a counselor.

    Lisa Schenke has just published a book about her family’s experience, called “Without Tim” and says she is hearing from parents all over the country.

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